Aspartame Consumer Safety Network
P.O. Box 2001
Frisco, Texas 75034 U.S.
Phone/FAX: 214.387.4001

 

HEALTH: The Bitter Truth About Aspartame
By Gailon Totheroh Science & Medical Reporter 
February 13, 2002

The controversial sweetener called aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, has become the subject of a decades-long safety controversy

CBN.com - The American public's long love affair with sweets has not been good for our health. From obesity to diabetes, sugar has left its mark. In response, Americans came up with artificial sweeteners without all the calories, and a bitter diet of public health safety battles then ensued.

The controversial sweetener called aspartame, also known as NutraSweet /Equal, has become the subject of a decades-long safety controversy. It is a war that pits consumer groups and scientists against the food industry and their experts. The fuel of the aspartame controversy has been the thousands of consumers complaining of mild to serious health problems they attribute to the artificial sweetener.

One of them is Mary Nash Stoddard. She suffered from suicidal depression, a painful blood disease [eosinophilia], nerve damage, and a traumatized daughter. "After many months of migraine headaches, heart attack symptoms, she finally was carried in from a school field trip after a grand mal seizure," Stoddard said.

CBN News contacted two major industry groups which advocate aspartame's safety. The International Food Information Council and the Calorie Control Council were unable to find an available expert by our deadline.

They, along with the NutraSweet Company, the major producer of the sweetener, do provide their side of the story on the Internet.

For over 15 years, Stoddard has been fighting aspartame with her Aspartame Consumer Safety Network, asking dozens of government and elected officials to listen, "To listen seriously to what we have to say and the tens of thousands of reports we have in our files," she explained.

While the government may not be listening, some companies appear to be getting the message. [image of Diet Rite soda (from makers of Royal Crown sodas) can with "no aspartame" label]

Stoddard says everyone should listen to the brain problems her group has logged: Headaches, seizures, hallucinations, ringing in the ears, memory problems, aggravation of brain diseases like multiple sclerosis and even brain tumors have been reported.

The NutraSweet Company calls those who attack aspartame alarmists using "scare tactics" that have "distorted" public perception.

But whose side is science on?

The industry generally claims over 200 research articles supporting the safety of aspartame. In other words, their research claims it is safe to consume aspartame at will.

Noted psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Walton analyzed the relevant research articles and had a rather different story to tell. "What I found was 100 percent of the industry-sponsored research attested to the safety of the product whereas 92 percent of the studies that had independent funding identified some type of problem," he explained.

Walton's chart of industry-funded research shows 74 articles, and every single one supports safety, while other apparently more objective researchers found adverse reactions in 85 studies. To some, this sounds like corporate tampering with science to deceive the public.

"We need a better process with regards to medical research, that people doing the research should not have a vested interest in the outcome of that research. Unfortunately, with NutraSweet we do have that situation," Walton said.

Walton's analysis finds support from Dr. Woodrow Monte of Arizona State University. Monte was wary of aspartame from the beginning because it contains a toxic alcohol also known as wood alcohol or methanol.

"This never, never, ever should have been approved," Monte said."It has done tremendous damage to the population and is doing more damage. I am one hundred percent behind stopping it from being consumed, especially by women who are pregnant and children. Or anyone really.There's nothing good about it, absolutely, positively nothing good about NutraSweet."

But industry defenders correctly state that fruits also contain this same alcohol, and fruit is safe.

Walton explained why he disagrees. "In fruit you have the antidote along with it. And also the methanol component is bound to something called pectin, in fruit. We humans don't have the enzyme to split methanol off from pectin. So, in fruit it's perfectly harmless, but that's not the case in aspartame," he said.

Yet groups from the World Health Organization to the American Medical Association say there is no problem consuming even large quantities.

Walton compares the sweetener to how the medical field used to treat tobacco. "Physicians would indeed urge patients to smoke, so it took quite a long time for there to be, first, medical awareness, then public awareness of the hazards of smoking," he said. "I think we're in an analogous situation with aspartame."

For consumers, there are a couple of straightforward questions to consider: Who is the most credible on the safety issue? If unsafe, how unsafe? And what are the alternatives? How good are they? All these questions may require a lot more personal thought and investigation, even if the truth is hard to swallow.

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